When Is Time More Valuable Than Money?
In business, our most common transaction trades time for money. We trade out time for income earned though our labor, productivity, and profit. Whenever we can, we find newer, more effective ways to leverage out time into cash.
But in the tender country of illness or loss, death or divorce, we are suddenly desperate to trade all the money in the world, for any refund at all, for a single day, one brief moment of precious time, now gone forever. Time lost is never for sale, not at any price.
Faced with life-threatening illness, we eagerly employ the best teams of physicians to increase the odds on salvaging an extra six months, six weeks, six days of life with those we love In divorce disputes parents can pay lawyers colossal fees to guarantee one extra day of custodial time with our children.
“Time is money,” we learn in the American catechism. But when our hearts are shredded by the real world, when everything we counted on, owned, believed would be true forever, all suddenly disappear, or are taken, or get lost, or die, we are humbled by the stark, unmovable law of universal impermanence. Face to face with our relative unimportance, we discover our powerlessness over so many things larger than our will, greater than our heart’s desires. Our foolish equivalency of time and money dries up and blows away, ashes in our mouth, dust taken by the winds of a greater truth.
Jack and Angela are getting divorced. Successful in their respective careers, their love for one another has withered for reasons only they can know. They are now trying to divide custody of the children.
Sasha, diagnosed with leukemia, took a sabbatical from her job in advertising. She and her husband, a filmmaker, moved to a cottage to walk, to rest, to listen to the quieter voices that teach them what is most necessary.
Time is not money. Time and money are two enzymes that serve very specific functions in our life, and confusing the two can bring us great suffering.
Money traded in the marketplace purchases basic goods and services we cannot provide for ourselves. But how much time should we trade for this money? How do we know when we do not have enough money, and when we do not have enough time? The question is rarely asked, and when it is, it is often too late.
People who have a lot of money and no time we call “rich.” People who have a great deal of time but no money we call “poor.” Yet the most precious gifts of a human life—love, friendship, time with children and loved ones—grow only in the sweet soil of “unproductive” time.
Teens who spend leisure time with their families become less prone to heavy drinking. The less time parents hang out with their kids, the more likely teenagers will develop alcohol problems.
The problem is not simply that we work too much; the problem is, we seek payment in the wrong currency. We must be wise enough to see that real wealth is a fruitful marriage of both time and money, combining material security with those priceless things that grow only in time—time to walk in the park, to read a book, to hold one another close, to be tender and present with those we love, to put our hands in the garden, to cook meals with friends, to paint, to meditate, to dance.
Elaine is a professional woman in private practice. She works hard and well, is diligent and honorable in her work. But Elaine has now lost two husbands—the first in Vietnam, the second to cancer. Now, alone and courageous, she treasures those gifts only time can bestow. Several days a week she turns off the phone, lights a candle on a small altar, and sits quietly. She prays, she gathers pictures. She may go for a walk.
And when she walks, she says, she often sings.
Learn more at www.waynemuller.com
This piece, along with previous blogs from Wayne Muller, can be read on The Huffington Post. To read, comment on or subscribe to his blog, click here.